The San Jose Sharks will not offer goaltender Evgeni Nabokov a contract when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next week, cutting ties with one of the franchise's cornerstone players.
General manager Doug Wilson announced the decision Tuesday in a pre-draft news conference, shortly after delivering the news personally to Nabokov.
"He's been outstanding for this organization, a big part of our successes," Wilson said. "I have great respect for him as a player, as a man and a teammate."
Nabokov said at the end of the season that he would like to remain in San Jose, but noted that it was not his decision entirely. Nabokov made $6 million US last year in the final season of his five-year contract.
Wilson noted a direction in the NHL in which teams have had great success with lower-paid goaltenders, most recently with Chicago winning the Stanley Cup with Antti Niemi, who made $827,000 this season.
"If you look at the trends in this league the last four or five years in particular and the dollars that are dedicated to that position," he said. "If you're dedicating $5 or $6 million, that's coming out of somewhere else."
Nabokov has been one of the top goalies in the league the past few years, winning an NHL-best 131 games over the past three seasons. He has a 293-215-29 record in 10 seasons with the Sharks, with a 2.39 goals against average.
Nabokov went 44-26 with a 2.43 goals against average last season, helping the Sharks reach the Western Conference final this year, where they were swept by Chicago.
The Sharks will give a chance to backup Thomas Greiss, who started 11 games this season and also played for Germany in the Olympics, as well as minor league goalie Alex Stalock, who won 39 games and had a 2.63 goals against average with Worcester in the AHL.
Wilson said the team would also look to add a veteran goalie either through a trade or free agency to pair with one of the younger goalies. Among the goalies eligible to become unrestricted free agents are Dallas' Marty Turco, St. Louis' Chris Mason, Philadelphia's Michael Leighton and Washington's Jose Theodore.
"The goaltending market is very deep," Wilson said. "There's lots of goalies that are out there that you can supplement or build a tandem with what you have. Make no mistake, we're very pleased with the goaltenders we have in our system and they'll be given an opportunity."
With a decision made not to try to retain Nabokov, the focus for the Sharks turns to the other unrestricted free agents, most notably leading goal scorer Patrick Marleau. The decision to let Nabokov leave could free up more money for Marleau if necessary.
Forwards Scott Nichol and Manny Malhotra, and defenceman Niclas Wallin are also among the unrestricted free agents the Sharks want to keep. Wilson is also looking to lock up restricted free agents Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi.
"I would like to get all the pieces done prior to the draft," Wilson said. "That would be my home run."
The Sharks will lose at least two key players from the team that reached the Western Conference final, with captain Rob Blake announcing his retirement last week.
But Wilson believes there is plenty of help coming through the system with some young players who can complement stars like Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Dan Boyle to maintain the Sharks' position as a perennial contender.
"We think this team is going into a four- or five-year window," Wilson said. "Just look at the age of the team with Blakey not being back and Nabber not being back. We're a young team actually coming into its prime. Now I have to forecast the dedication of dollars going forward."